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Review: From Dust

Posted by on September 21st, 2011 | 0 Comments | Tags:

A physics environmental puzzler, From Dust is an interesting experience.  To describe it simply, cross a sandbox with Lemmings.  We were afraid that it was just some tech demo, but those worries went away after a few levels.

You control the Breath, a power able to manipulate the world around you.  Your goal is to help man repopulate and settle the world.  Man is drawn to totems scattered around the landscape that were left by the ancients.  Around each totem man can build a new village.  The goal of each level is to guide man to each totem, populate each village, and then guide man to a designated exit.  There is also the sub goals of adding foliage to each level and finding a hidden artifact.  Grass and palms grow outward from each village.  Get enough of it to grow and animals will show up (though they only look like big dumb worms).  The artifacts are usually hidden in plain sight, but getting to them can sometimes be a challenge.

Each level has different obstacles that man must overcome.  These include avoiding some type of water obstacle (Flash flood, Tsunami, Getting across a lake), or a fire obstacle (Wildfires that consume all grass in site or volcanic eruptions).  You must protect them from these natural dangers by manipulating what is around you.  Most levels contain a music spell that the villagers can find and learn to protect themselves from water or fire.  This is the first thing I would set out to get in any given level.  With each totem that you settle brings new abilities for you.  Some of these abilities include amplifying your breath ability, evaporating all water, or turning all water into jelly.  Each ability has its own use, and when combined with other abilities they show their true usefulness.  Tidal wave incoming?  Jellify all the water, amplify your breath, and use the engulf ability to suck up all the water before it has a chance to wipe away a village.  Lava was my favorite element to manipulate.  I was able to shape the landscape to my whim with it, building a makeshift dam of hardened lava to protect my villages.  Eventually the volcano erupting would flow off screen, taking out almost all of the immediate dangers.

From Dust looks quite vibrant at times, but isn’t as pretty close up.  The clashing of water vs. earth vs. fire makes some very well-executed visuals.  Music has a tribal flavor with lots of drums and didgeridoos which fit the game perfectly.  The controls work well enough, but sometimes the amount of precision you need to make some of the more minute changes to the environment just isn’t there.  When your villagers are moving from place to place they often get stuck, and in most cases, it isn’t clear why.  This can get aggravating after awhile because sometimes they just do not want to move no matter how you clear the environment for them.

As I’ve mentioned the majority of the games mechanics are very solid.  The fire/water trees introduced midway through the game try to add extra difficulty, but come off as rather clunky.  On paper they sound like a good idea, with the Water trees providing barrier from wildfires, but usually they either: 1. Dry up and let your village burn anyway, or 2. Absorb too much water and end up drowning your village.   After one level with these trees, you’re allowed to uproot them and completely disregard this gameplay aspect for the rest of the game (which I did).  Explosive trees aren’t as useless, as they make for a quick option to make a crater, or blast through solid rock.

From Dust will run you about 5 hours to green up all the story levels and find all the hidden artifacts.  There is a challenge mode added on with more intricate goals and restricted access to your abilities, such as only being able to manipulate one element.  The challenge mode gives some extra life to the game, but I thought the story mode was just getting into stride by the time it was over.  From Dust is much more than just a technology demo, but due to imprecise controls and some  gameplay gimmicks I can only give it a three out of five.  Would love to see some DLC levels for this one.

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.

General Info

  • Fire/Water Trees
  • Imprecise controls
  • Animals look dumb